Discovering the essence of childhood in New Zealand

How a move across the world has illuminated the beauty of childhood

Image courtesy of Unsplash.

When was the last time your child woke up for school by himself without an alarm clock? Can you remember a school morning when all was peaceful, calm, and relaxed ? When was the last time your children felt energized by school, were happy to go to school, and got there early on purpose? For my kids that was today and has been every day since we moved to New Zealand.

Our American Schedule — The Clock Fixation

Highschool Princess

  • 6AM wake up, get ready,
  • 6:20 drink smoothie, pack bookbag, inhale protein bar, final touch ups to hair
  • 6:40 run out the door to catch a ride.
  • This ritual was done while watching the clock with a maximum level of stress.

Elementary School Guy

  • 6:30AM dragged out of bed so he can sit in a ball of incoherence on the couch
  • 6:50 drink fruit protein shake.
  • 7:00 pack book bag, fix hair, rarely brush teeth,
  • 7:10 out the door to walk to school or catch the bus

Afterschool rituals were not much better for any of them. Running to all activities at various times with a constant buzz of stress, crabbiness, and always with a sense of urgency was the standard routine. The vortex that surrounded us, spiralled around us, constantly and relentlessly, became imperceptible. Without realising, these young creatures were being taught that stress is the norm, busy is the norm, and racing against the clock is the norm. However, in the midst of this cyclone, in this race against time, what did we hope they win? A high level of stress to carry into adulthood. Anxiety and depression to outline their late adolescence? Medicines to treat their chronic illness that will surely develop in adulthood? None of this occured to me or seemed absurd until we landed in New Zealand. Breaking away from our US life, helped me bring into focus the portrayal of adulthood I was ingraining into the kids. Once on New Zealand soil, a new image clarified, the beauty of the oragnic childhood.

The Organic Childhood Experience in Wellington, NZ, illustrated.

  • Kids walk, scooter, or bike to school. There are no school buses, and carpool is a rare exception for the younger students. If you live too far away, you take the public bus and then walk.
  • In primary school K-8th, kids are encouraged to arrive 20–30minutes before the bell rings so they can play outside.
  • Parking is provided for scooter, bikes, and skateboards.
  • Open air classrooms. All classrooms have rows of windows on at least 2 sides, and doors remain open. There are no classrooms without windows. The outside is considered as important for the young mind as what is taught in the classroom.
  • No cafeterias. Kids eat outside in the courtyard on benches or on covered porches during inclement weather. They bring their lunch — fruits/veggies/sandwiches/water.
  • School starts 8:40 at the earliest for High School (college).
  • There is tea time daily — 1hr = play and hangout outside.
  • Lunch is 10 min eating, 50 min playing outside.
  • Climbing trees is encouraged and broken arms are an occasional occurrence that bothers no one.
  • Swim lessons happen every Friday for all students and are viewed as important as maths.
  • New Zealand is in the top tier for education, surpassing United States significantly in the elementary-high school education according to United Nations Education Index and the Program for International Student Assessment
  • Every morning one student grabs a bucket of fruits or veggies for their classroom. Today, year 8 class had a bucket of cucumbers. Several kids were happily snacking on them. Furthermore, a box of fresh fruit is placed outside in the courtyard every day. (As hard as I tried to take a video and pictures of this, I failed. I had to keep it in check, so as not to appear as the super creepy American lady)
  • There are no vending machines or processed foods. No candy is given to kids for rewards.
  • In the K-8 school there is no name brand clothing, no bows, no matched outfits, no designer book bags. The outside of the child is not a priority.
  • In College (high school) there are strict uniforms, no make up, everyone is the same. The End.
  • All the kids are involved in sports a couple of times a week. They scooter, walk, bus, or bike 30 minutes to their practice or match and we pick them up.
  • Dinner is by 7pm the latest.

6 weeks into this adventure, the kids now go to sleep with the sunset and wake up with the sunrise. Everyone has time in the morning for Protein Fruit Smoothie with eggs and toast. The clock has become a blurry image in the background. I drag nobody out of bed. They leave for school with enthusiasm and excitement every single day. (OK in full disclosure, one of them still can’t put his shoes on in time, and the other one cannot manage to brush his teeth) All three kids come home happy, relaxed, and glowing. There is barely any homework, so the library across the way is 5 stories high and provides them with the latest books. Skateboarding or scootering in the nearby skate park is the norm. They grocery shop or attend various classes at the nearby local gym. Our weekends are filled with hikes (tramps), biking, exploring parks to find obstacle courses, zip lines, see-saw’s, and sky high webbed structures.

A calm has settled over the entire family. It’s almost as if our US habits and expectations caged us in a somewhat toxic living atmosphere. By venturing out into the world, the toxins are being eliminated, the spirits cleansed, and childhood is becoming purified. How did I loose sight of the essence of childhood? I read food labels obsessively — how did I overlook the Organic Childhood Label?

Organic Childhood Label

In good health, Ana-Maria Temple, MD


Originally published at mc2charlotte.com on November 24, 2016.

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